The LetterEnlarge image

The Letter, c. 1878

James Tissot
French, 1836 - 1902
oil on canvas
71.4 x 107.1 cm
Purchased 1964
National Gallery of Canada (no. 15191)

Jacques-Joseph Tissot, known as James, resided in London from 1871 until 1882. The scenes of leisure life and fashion he painted there brought him remarkable financial success: Edgar Degas was astounded to learn that in 1873 Tissot had received 900 pounds for a painting. The appeal of Tissot's work lies in its lavish detail and a choice of subject inspired by contemporary British society. Here every fold and ruffle of the model's clothing, down to the raised seam of her leather gloves, is rendered with vivid and exacting precision. The setting for "The Letter" has recently been identified as the Dutch Gardens of Holland House in London. The painting is thought to represent a falling out between Lady Holland and her adopted daughter, Marie Liechtenstein.

Additional Information 

Signed and dated at right on base of urn: J.J. Tissot 187[8?]

Marks and Labels 

- Graves Art Gallery Sheffield, Tissot exhibition, May 1955, lent by Hon. Mrs. Nellie Ionides, no. 34
- James Bourlet & Sons Ltd. Fine Art Packers, Frame Makers, H 16321, 17 & 18 Nassau Street, Mortimer St. W.
- Leicester Galleries, London W.C. 2, Fine Art Publishers
- G. Tissot, no. 3234 S A (belongs perhaps to the Leicester sticker)
- The House of Hydenryk, New York (frame maker)


by 1953 – 1963
The Hon. Mrs Nellie Ionides, née Samuel (1883–1962), London, UK

1963/05/29 –
P. Claas, London, purchased at the sale of the Ionides collection, Sotheby's, London, May 29th, 1963, lot no. 170 [1]

by 1964/04
James Coats, New York, USA [2]

1964/04 –
National Gallery of Canada, purchased from James Coats, New York [3]


[1] According to Reynolds and lender's reference in a 1955 exhibition catalogue the painting was owned by Hon. Mrs Nellie Ionides [Reynolds, Graham. "Painters of the Victorian Scene." London: Batsford, 1953, p. 99, pl. 100] and [Graves Art Gallery. "James Tissot (1836-1902). An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Etchings." Sheffield, 1955, no. 34]. After her death the painting was included in her estate sale at Sotheby's, London, in 1963. In the auction catalogue's list of the prices and buyer's names is P. Claas listed as the purchaser ["Fine Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Drawings and Paintings", Sotheby's, London, May 29th, 1963, lot no. 170].

[2] See the invoice from James Coats, 39 East 72nd Street, New York City, dated April 27th, 1964 [NGC curatorial file].

[3] See the shipment record inward of the National Gallery of Canada, dated April 20th, 1964 [NGC curatorial file].

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